The Gates-funded Early College High School Initiative aimed to graduate high school students with an associate’s degree or two years of college credit. Programs are rethinking expectations, The Hechinger Report finds.
Since 2002, the Early College High School Initiative has opened over 200 schools, with the two largest concentrations in North Carolina (61 schools) and California (38 schools). The program will soon expand to 250 schools nationwide.
Early college isn’t aimed at top students. Reformers hope at-risk students will be motivated to pass college classes, despite below-grade-level reading and math skills. That’s not always realistic.
In 2009, early-college high schools’ graduation rate was 85 percent with 65 percent of graduates were accepted to four-year colleges. Nearly 83 percent of early-college ninth-graders were enrolled in at least one college-prep math course, compared to 67.3 percent of their peers.
Still, only about 11 percent of early-college graduates nationwide received associate’s degrees, far below the original goal of 100 percent. And the average early-college student graduates with just 22 credits, less than a year’s worth of college coursework.
Hostos-Lincoln Academy, a high-performing, all-minority school is located on the campus of Hostos Community College in the South Bronx. A third of the 90 rising-seniors – the first early-college class – expect to receive associate’s degrees. Another third will graduate with significant college credit.
Hostos learned that while many students rise to high expectations, others simply don’t. Some needed constant prodding to turn in assignments on time. They may have lacked maturity and felt uncomfortable approaching a professor with questions.
The program still aims to teach high-schoolers how to operate in college, primarily through weekly advisory seminars covering basics like taking notes during a lecture and following along with assignments in the syllabus. In the past, students took this course at the same time as their first college course and had to figure out differences between college and high school on their own.
Last year, Hostos-Lincoln decided to let students leave the college track if it’s too much for them.
Starting this school year, all ninth-graders will take an extended seminar in the fall. If they prove during this time that they’re mature enough to take a college course, they’ll be enrolled in the spring.
Hostos will also create an eighth-grade elective for its middle school, taught partially by high school teachers, that will emphasize writing skills and cultural literacy.
Frankly, if early-college programs push schools to improve at-risk students’ writing skills, boost the graduation rate and get the most motivated students to earn a semester or two of college credit, that’s a big success.